Suppose the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case Tuesday, were to decide to allow states to enact term limit laws for members of Congress. And suppose Maryland passed such a law -- as 22 states have -- and made it apply to incumbents. What would happen here? If the limit were two terms for senators and three terms for representatives, as most term limit proponents prefer, here's what:
Neither Sen. Paul Sarbanes nor Sen. Barbara Mikulski could run again. Nor could the five most effective members of the state's delegation in the House of Representatives. Steny Hoyer of the Fifth District has been in House since 1981. Ben Cardin of the Third, Kweisi Mfume of the Seventh and Connie Morella of the Eighth have been there since 1987. Wayne Gilchrest of the First has been there since 1991.
Only Roscoe Bartlett of the Sixth and Albert Wynn of the Fourth, who were first elected in 1992, and Rep.-elect Robert Ehrlich of the Second, who was elected this year, would be eligible to run in 1996 -- and that would be the last term for Messrs. Wynn and Bartlett.
Look at it another way. If such a term-limit law had been in effect two years ago, seven of the state's eight incumbents could not have run in 1992, and Senator Sarbanes would not have been able to run for re-election in 1994.
Now, many Marylanders may think that would be a good idea, but many don't. The latter know that the states that let members of Congress serve as long as the voters voted for them would soon have enormous advatanges in Congress over states with term limits. The un-limited states would control all the committee chairmanships, for one thing. Even without that, the more senior members would know more about how "Washington" works than the delegations rotating in and out in rapid order, and be more effective.
We doubt very much if the Supreme Court will approve of such laws. The Constitution seems pretty clear on the subject: states may not impose qualifications beside the specific ones in Article I of the Constitution: age, citizenship and residency. But Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich has promised a vote on a term limits constitutional amendment. That would nullify Article I on this point.
We hope it won't pass. We have a hunch it won't. Many Democrats are on record against it. But not only Democrats. Henry Hyde, the very conservative Republican from Illinois who will become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where such constitutional amendments are drafted, says he won't bottle it up, but he will speak against it, and he can be very persuasive.